Cover of Carnival
Bantam Spectra, 2006
Review by Paul Kincaid
There was a time, not so long ago, when British science fiction was in the doldrums. What lifted it out and established what has been called the “British renaissance” was a rediscovery through the works of such as Iain M Banks and Colin Greenland of the excitement of traditional SF tropes and topics. Of late we have started to see that same reappraisal of core science fictional ideas in some of the younger American writers like John Scalzi and Elizabeth Bear. Carnival by Bear is a perfect example of such a return. Strip away the sexual politics overlaid on the story, which add complexity to the plot but not necessarily depth to the novel, and this is a book that could have come straight from the so-called golden age.
In broad terms we see Earth and its more local planets under a fascistic dictatorship, while a handful of more distant worlds have retained their more individualistic independence. We follow two diplomats from the dictatorship on a mission to one of these independent worlds ostensibly to return looted art treasures but really to sow the seeds for conquest. Except, of course, that our two diplomats are goodies really, secretly working for the independence movement. Naturally there’s a complication: they discover an intelligent alien on the planet, and it is the alien that provides the means for eventual victory.
Aliens of the Heart cover
Aliens of the Heart
Carolyn Ives Gilman
Aqueduct Press, 2007
Review by Ian Sales
Aliens of the Heart, a collection of three short stories and one novelette, is the nineteenth volume in Aqueduct Press’ Conversation Pieces, a “small paperback series” which “celebrates the speculations and visions of the grand conversation of feminist sf”. The series comprises fiction, poetry and non-fiction – “essays … speeches … interviews, correspondence and group discussions”. It currently stands at thirty-two volumes, with two more due in August this year.
The four stories in Aliens of the Heart are all set in the US mid-west, arguably the heart of the country. They are all science fiction, though in at least one case the story first appeared in a fantasy anthology. But not only does the “heart” of the title refer to the stories’ geographical location but also to the hearts of the protagonists, all women, all the heart of the relationships which form the centres of the stories, and all the hearts of the stories themselves.
‘Lost Road’ is one of those stories with a simple premise that genre fiction does so well. A middle-aged couple – he is suffering from dementia? Alzheimer’s? – drive from their farm into the nearby town of Lost Road. After their errands, they head home… but they cannot find their way. I will happily admit to a dislike of genre stories which use their central conceit as a metaphor, and then proceed to beat that metaphor to death. I call them “Clarion-style stories”, and you can often find one or two on the Hugo Award shortlist each year. ‘Lost Road’ is similar to those types of stories, but it is, above all else, subtle. As Betty Lindstrom and her husband Wayne travel further from the world they know (though the landscape remains disturbingly familiar), so Wayne seems to recover from his condition. Yet nothing is resolved; the power of the story lies in its refusal to explain or resolve. ‘Lost Roads’ originally appeared in Fantasy & Science Fiction, in February 1992, and was reprinted in 2002 in an anthology from Tesseract Books, Land/Space.